Allies and Identities

A few days ago, Dave Silverman asked on Twitter for people to define “ally”. The answer, of course, is very simple. An ally is someone who helps us get closer to our shared goals.

And, of course, as with any simple answer, that isn’t a very simple matter at all. Every small part of it is complex. Perhaps the best way to break it apart is to look at what doesn’t constitute an ally. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: Teffeu: A Book from the Library at Taarona

Sometimes stories about books feel cheap and easy. “I know my readers like to read, so I’ll let them read about reading.” This story by Rose Lemberg feels anything but.

Also, Strange Horizons, from which many of the stories featured here come, is having their annual fund drive. The stories are free to you, but paying the authors is important to.

Its pages smell of honey, with dusty and sweet notes of paper flowers that bloom on the flat roof of a house, a library that stands on the top of a lonely blue hill. Bees come to the roof and alight on the blooms that had once lived in books—books that had perished in fires and floods of forgetfulness. On the paper petals the bees look illuminated, gilded with time and traced by a hand that has never spelled rush. I had planted the flowers there myself, when I was a librarian under a thousand sunsets, but today, like any other day for years and years and years, I will not dare to open Teffeu.

There are thousands of books on my shelves here. Once, in despair before yet another big move, I called a company. The supervisor who did the assessment told me they had recently moved a small Jesuit college with less books than I owned.

I do not own the books. They live with me. In Russian, we say the books are by my side. I live in English mostly these days, but they live by my side in Russian, English, Old English, Welsh, Old Norse, Old Russian, Bulgarian, Homeric Greek, Modern Icelandic, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Yiddish. They are by my side, but no longer do we quite live together. Sometimes when I come down the stairs and open a book very fast, I see that all the words have gone missing.

I know where they go. When I was fourteen, my body resided in a tiny apartment with cockroaches and a broken wall, and three weeks had passed since my family immigrated to Israel. But there was another house I lived in, circular and ancient, with stucco walls painted in flowering ink that spelled itself into a thousand names for every sunset since the world was new. And I had made a library there, for all the books I’d ever want to live with me in all the languages, in all the alphabets and abjads, syllabaries and logographic scripts.

When my books empty out at night, they go to the library at Taarona.

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“Fifth Report of the IPCC”, Greg Laden on Atheists Talk

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just come out, and Greg Laden joins us this Sunday to tell us what it means. What do over 800 representatives of 85 countries have to say about the state of consensus in scientific literature? More importantly, what do we need to do about it?

Additionally, various memes denying the science of climate change have popped up again in anticipation of this report. What might you have been hearing about climate change recently, and why is it wrong?

We’ll talk about it all Sunday morning.

Relevant Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

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Hell If I Know, Facebook, or Care

Dear Facebook:

You’re behaving ridiculously. Stop it.

Stop asking me whether I know someone outside of Facebook when I accept a friend request. I am never going to answer that question. And damned well stop asking everyone else as well unless and until you make it absolutely obvious that you’re going to use that information to punish people if their new friends say, “No.” [Read more…]

Get Those Atheists Into Church

This year, I found out about Interview an Atheist at Church Day the day before it happened. This year, the people who initiated the project are working a bit harder to get the word out. You can help.

Interview an Atheist at Church Day is a community project aimed at bettering the understanding between atheists and religious persons. We hope to connect atheists who are willing to be interviewed with congregations in their area that are interested in developing ties with atheists in their area. The “day” represents our desire to grow into something far-reaching and beneficial to atheists and churchgoers alike.

As unbelieving populations around the world [continue] to rise, dialogue and understanding between atheists and people of faith is more important than ever. We live and work in the same world: understanding better what both unites and divides religious and non-religious people can only help us make this world a better place.

We hope that these interviews will benefit both believers and non-believers.  Possible questions include:

  1.  How does your atheism influence your day-to-day actions?

  2.  Why don’t you believe in God?

  3. How do you find meaning in an atheistic universe?

  4. Where do you think morality comes from?

  5. How can we find a way to work together?

They’re looking both for atheists who are willing to be interviewed and churches that want to quiz an atheist. They’re also trying to raise a small budget to promote the idea more widely. Do what you can.

“That’s Their Problem”

Minnesota Atheists had their monthly public meeting a week ago. PZ was the speaker, talking a little bit about his new book and doing a lengthy Q&A. In response to a question of mine, he admitted to wanting to take over the world.* It was an interesting talk, but the part of the meeting I want to address happened earlier, during the business section.

There’s a legislative change that leaders in MNA have had their eye on for a few years. It was put on the back burner for most of my time with the organization, as marriage equality became a big issue for the state and for us. Now, with those marriages safely and happily happening around us, it’s time to pick the pet issue up again.

One of these days, when there’s a bill looking for sponsors or votes, I’ll want to write about the issue itself. Suffice it to say for now, one of our state laws is written in such a way that it is obvious in one section that Christianity was the default assumption when it was originally written. There are sections of the law that make it inclusive of various other faiths, but nothing making it inclusive of atheists and secular humanists. We want to fix that. [Read more…]

Questions on a Block Bot (Updated)

While I’ve not been feeling well, I’ve had a set of questions sitting in my inbox. Being ill creates its own time dilation, so this all seems very long ago, but as I recall, the original idea was to find someone who approves of The Block Bot to answer some questions about it for an article. I figure that if I answer them here, I’ll actually get this done.

Q: What is the brief history of this Block Bot?

As this is the Atheism+ Block Bot, it needs to be understood in the context of the history of Atheism+. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: One of Twins

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I’d been reading Ambrose Bierce. I read a bit about him as well, and I was struck by how little mystery there is in his “mysterious disappearance”. Bierce’s stories themselves testify how easy it was for people to disappear in a country that was still sparsely settled, how easy it was for letters to go astray, how hard it was to identify the stranger who up and died in the chaos of growing towns, how suddenly and unexpectedly death could come. That a 71-year-old journalist with asthma, following the Mexican revolutionary army, might suddenly stop communicating and never be heard from again is not unexpected, even if we never get the details of how and where he died. I can’t help but think that stories like this contributed to the air of mystery involved.

Soon after we had come to California, and settled at San Jose (where the only good fortune that awaited us was our meeting with so kind a friend as you) the family, as you know, was broken up by the death of both my parents in the same week. My father died insolvent and the homestead was sacrificed to pay his debts. My sisters returned to relatives in the East, but owing to your kindness John and I, then twenty-two years of age, obtained employment in San Francisco, in different quarters of the town. Circumstances did not permit us to live together, and we saw each other infrequently, sometimes not oftener than once a week. As we had few acquaintances in common, the fact of our extraordinary likeness was little known. I come now to the matter of your inquiry.

One day soon after we had come to this city I was walking down Market street late in the afternoon, when I was accosted by a well-dressed man of middle age, who after greeting me cordially said: “Stevens, I know, of course, that you do not go out much, but I have told my wife about you, and she would be glad to see you at the house. I have a notion, too, that my girls are worth knowing. Suppose you come out to-morrow at six and dine with us, en famille; and then if the ladies can’t amuse you afterward I’ll stand in with a few games of billiards.”

This was said with so bright a smile and so engaging a manner that I had not the heart to refuse, and although I had never seen the man in my life I promptly replied: “You are very good, sir, and it will give me great pleasure to accept the invitation. Please present my compliments to Mrs. Margovan and ask her to expect me.”

With a shake of the hand and a pleasant parting word the man passed on. That he had mistaken me for my brother was plain enough. That was an error to which I was accustomed and which it was not my habit to rectify unless the matter seemed important. But how had I known that this man’s name was Margovan? It certainly is not a name that one would apply to a man at random, with a probability that it would be right. In point of fact, the name was as strange to me as the man.

The next morning I hastened to where my brother was employed and met him coming out of the office with a number of bills that he was to collect. I told him how I had “committed” him and added that if he didn’t care to keep the engagement I should be delighted to continue the impersonation.

“That’s queer,” he said thoughtfully. “Margovan is the only man in the office here whom I know well and like. When he came in this morning and we had passed the usual greetings some singular impulse prompted me to say: ‘Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. Margovan, but I neglected to ask your address.’ I got the address, but what under the sun I was to do with it, I did not know until now. It’s good of you to offer to take the consequence of your impudence, but I’ll eat that dinner myself, if you please.”

He ate a number of dinners at the same place – more than were good for him, I may add without disparaging their quality; for he fell in love with Miss Margovan, proposed marriage to her and was heartlessly accepted.

Keep reading.